The Evolution of Diplomacy


Many politicians, journalists, and analysts focus a lot on problems of international relations, foreign policy, and what happens in the world. Some of the questions that they concentrate on include how to implement foreign policy decisions as well as other matters of diplomacy. Outlining the major strategic priorities and approaches help people understand and realize what goes on around them. This article is an analysis of the major way in which diplomacy changed and an analysis of the durability of this change.

Old Diplomacy

Diplomacy is essentially the idea of interacting, maintaining contact, communication and negotiating among states and other international actors. Diplomacy could also mean a way of doing business, a mode of behavior or a particular professional style. Developments in diplomacy prove that negotiations are a useful tool in building and managing international contacts. Diplomacy helps states deal with the external world through proper communication and negotiation (Berridge, 2010).

The idea of diplomacy started in ancient Europe. The Greeks, Italians, and French used diplomacy as a way of communication between different states. The nature of diplomacy changed over the years. Part of the aspects that facilitated this includes the emergence of international organizations in international politics which supported multiple state negotiations more as compared to the bilateral state negotiations. This change facilitated the encompassment of broader nonstate actors. The introduction of international organizations and NGO’s thus caused a threat to the old kind of diplomacy.

Changes in diplomacy

Currently, many states rely on NGOs to solve their issues through conventions and conferences. The United Nations, for instance, intervened in so many disputes around the world with the aim of ensuring peace. The success of the United Nations is a proof of the functionality of the new kind of diplomacy. Developments in diplomacy ensure that NGOs go further than just settling disputes. They engage in ensuring people have their human rights and care for the environment as well. With the new kind of diplomacy, small states and a small group of individuals can have an enormous impact on the world (Brown, 2001). It is democratic, fair and open to different people.

The Ottawa Treaty of 1997 is one of the biggest factors that led to changes of diplomacy. The treaty put an end to the era of a sovereign state. It proved that civil societies, international organizations, and governments could all work together. Lloyd Axworthy was the individual that came up with the idea with the support of the united nation and an alliance of small states and the civil society. In many ways, the treaty marked a significant change to diplomacy (Press Release DC/2593, 1997). It eroded hard power politics and embraced soft power politics that allowed the civil society and small states to impact the world. This aspect differs from old diplomacy which was very secretive and super powers always had their way. Multilateral diplomacy allowed states from around the world to engage in international politics irrespective of their small sizes. The success of the mine ban goes a long way to show the end of the policy of great powers in the system.

Multilateral diplomacy

Multilateral diplomacy is a process that has a connection with ideals and norms about better international justice, legitimacy, and legal equality. It also defines the process of management of international relations between multiple states without the use of a specialized secretariat. One can thus set multilateral diplomacy as a cooperative and collective action by various countries with the aim of dealing with everyday challenges that countries solve collectively. The phenomenon of multilateral diplomacy developed in the 21st century as a development of bilateral democracy (Brown, 2001). Part of the cause for change was the problems of the 21st century which were mostly global in nature. It helps deal with global aspects like the international flow of capital and information, human rights trade, fundamental environmental issues and human rights among others. The above problems required the use of a method above bilateral diplomacy.

Regional Multilateralism allows a powerful state or a small state to convene a select group that can help deal with a challenge in a timely and appropriate manner. It presents a favorable channel to most countries due to the benefits that it offers them. Even the smallest of states get the chance to engage in active participation in forums where they can raise petitions and sign agreements with other countries or even non-state actors. They also receive benefits like technical assistance and democracy enhancement and humanitarian aid.

The global war on terrorism illustrates the benefits of multilateral diplomacy. The cooperation of different states through sharing intelligence, border securities, economic sanctions and law enforcement shows that collective participation can help the world achieve their global goals. The emergence of new centers of power and the urgency of the world needs also highlight the need for multilateral diplomacy (Malloy, & Palermo, 2015). Climate change, the financial crisis, and maritime security are some of the urgent global needs that need countries to come together.

Research indicated the 9/11 terrorist attacks as some of the factors that fostered multilateral diplomacy with the aim of creating a way of tackling transnational threats. The fight against international money laundry also marks another example that encouraged the cooperation of cooperation between both formal and informal institutions around the globe. Multilateral agreements created through multilateral diplomacy offer an advantage of lower transaction costs through the use of central negotiation.

All parties involved get a chance to reach a mutual obligation towards each other. Countries around the world prefer multilateral diplomacy because bilateral diplomacy gave unique advantages to the strongest parties of a negotiation process. This aspect led to suboptimal outcomes from an efficiency or distributive perspective. Multilateral diplomacy thus allows weaker countries the chance of developing and bargaining equally with strong countries which in many cases led to better results.

The increasing interdependence and globalization further stress the importance of multilateral diplomacy (Brown, 2001).  The United Nations is the principal institution for international cooperation, which restored the credibility of the UN and revitalized multilateral diplomacy. Increasing global threats and the interdependence between different states indicates that multilateral diplomacy still has a bright future.


The change from bilateral to multilateral diplomacy is the single most significant change in the nature of diplomacy. Critical examination shows that multilateral diplomacy is the path that many states prefer. Bilateral diplomacy could still have a role to play, but multilateral diplomacy remains the most effective diplomatic strategies while dealing with current global threats. It offers better benefits to all states involved (Malloy, & Palermo, 2015). It could also foster international relations because it creates a fair playground for countries despite the sizes. The effect of globalization on all countries further facilitates the continuity of this kind of diplomacy. The presence of International intergovernmental organizations and their success further promote the idea.


Berridge, G.R., 2010. Diplomacy Theory and Practice, 4 editions, UK, Palgrave Macmillan, pp


Brown, B. E., 2001. What is the new Diplomacy. American Foreign Policy Interests, Vol. 23 pp. 2-23-55

Malloy, T. & Palermo, F. 2015. Minority accommodation through territorial and non-territorial autonomy. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, pp 34-87

Press Release DC/2593 1997. Ottawa Convention Subject of Special Disarmament Newsletter



One thought on “The Evolution of Diplomacy

  1. klara.orackova December 27, 2016 / 9:47 pm

    You are making a nice point here that the most significant change is the move from bilateral diplomacy to multilateral diplomacy. Your argument is supported by many examples, which I find useful. However, the title of your article is little bit misleading. It says ‘Evolution of diplomacy’, but it is not the main theme of your entry. You do mention some history only at the beginning. Maybe you can think about different title which would better capture the purpose of your work?
    Finally, I think there is one typo – ‘encouraged the cooperation of cooperation’. 🙂


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